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29th July 2011


Tasting Phoenix Tea in Guangdong

At the end of May this year I visited some of our suppliers across China to get a taste for the teas that were produced this year.

My trip took me all over China, and I covered a number of provinces including Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Anhui and Guizhou. In this post, I'll tell you a little bit about my trip to Phoenix Mountain in Guangdong province, in the far south of China.

Phoenix Tea Tree

Phoenix is famous for its rich and full oolong teas which contain a huge variety of tastes and aromas in glorious abundance.

After arriving in Guangzhou from Fuzhou, I met up with Mr Li, a producer who had kindly offered to take me to visit producers on Phoenix Mountain. Mr Li is devoted to Phoenix teas, and aims to sources teas which not only taste fantastic but are grown to strict organic standards too.

We set off from Guangzhou for the long drive to Phoenix, with the three city area of Jieyang, Shantou and Chaozhou as our target. Once we passed these cities we began our climb up Phoenix Mountain, until we discovered that the main, new road that we needed to take to reach the top had been closed due to a landslide.

By this time it was after midnight and we had to take the old, windy and precarious route upto the top of the mountain. As we climbed the mountain, the houses and villages thinned out until all we could see were a few lights further up the mountain. We eventually arrived at 1.30am to a guest house run by a tea farmer.

It turned out that the guest house was famous for its view of Phoenix lake, so despite my tiredness I got up early to have a look out of the window. Unfortunately, it was so misty that I could barely see further than 20ft! All I could see was thick fog, and not a tea garden in sight.

Over breakfast, and a chat with disappointed local tourists I discovered the weather had been poor for the last few days. They had resorted to playing cards and eating during the day to pass the time instead of trekking the mountain as they had hoped.

As time was short and I wanted to see some of the landscape and farms, I suggested that we drive down the mountain a bit in the hope that the mist would thin. Luckily this was the case and as we drove, I could get an idea of the rich, red soiled landscape, and quite how far we had ascended the evening before.

The first tea garden I visited was run by a renowned organic phoenix farmer, famous for the teas he produces from old tea trees.

Near his garden was the local temple - a small but very picturesque place, with the misty hills and tea gardens in the background, and a small carp pond at the front.

It turned out that the temple was renowned for the tea bushes that surrounded it. In 1943, a fire had engulfed the hill where the temple sat, destroying the bushes in the surrounding gardens in the process.

All the locals assumed that the bushes were dead, but in 1958 one bush began sprouting buds again. This was taken as a great sign, and that bush has been used for many cuttings since.

After enjoying a quick cup of tea with the monk of the temple and a local farming family, we moved onto the tea gardens themselves to meet the producer of some delicious teas.

The entrance to the garden was signalled by a huge 200 year old tree. The garden was beautifully located, with terraces of carefully tended old and young trees and bushes.

After a tour of the garden we came to a bank of 54 old trees used to make Mr Li’s most prized Phoenix oolongs, which sell for thousands of pounds per kilo.

A sudden downpour meant that we had to take shelter under these trees, before making a dash back to his house for a quick lunch of locally grown olives, rice and dried fish, and finally, some tea! After lunch we drove down to the factory to meet Mr Li’s brother who has been producing award winning Phoenix teas since he was 16.

Unfortunately, production of the highest quality teas had already finished for the season, but I was able to have a good look at the factory and enjoy sampling a Phoenix black tea on a brilliant stone tea table in traditional local style - three cups, shared between as many guests as there are over multiple infusions.

As a huge Phoenix tea fan, this trip was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me, and I enjoyed discovering some of the more unusual varieties and types of tea from the mountain.

It is said that there are ten distinct tastes of oolong teas produced on Phoenix, with many are said to have the fragrance of local flowers. Different processing methods bring out different flavour characteristics in each tea too, with Mi Lan Dan Cong (Honey Orchid) being one of the most heavily oxidised.